~ The Wrong Path ~
As they walked, Laurie found her thoughts drifting between what once was and what was now, and how very different those two segments of her life seemed. Only moments earlier, her heart had felt so heavy she had been convinced she could not live in this world anymore. Yet, now, she was starting to see life through new eyes, and she was mightily intrigued by what she saw, which, in turn, took her mind off previous woes.
“Where do you come from, Carol?” Laurie asked, the anxiety lacing her words fading. For some reason unknown to herself, Laurie felt close to Carol - in heart; in soul. In fact, here, in what she assumed was the midst of Carol's love, Laurie found much peace, and in that peace - despite circumstances - she found rest. And that, more than anything right now, is what her soul had been aching for.
Remaining hooked in Laurie’s arm, Carol smiled and reached out to hold the hand of their new companion. In response to Laurie’s question, she said, “It does not matter where we’ve come from... only where we are going to.”
Their companion shied beneath Carol’s touch, but did not avoid it. With head lowered, and Carol’s hand set firm in his, he mumbled something unintelligible, but before anyone could ask what it was he had said, a small child stepped out of the shadows, her little body trembling in the cool of the night; the thin material of her tattered pants and sleeveless stop doing nothing to protect her from the chilled air.
The girl – whom Laurie figured was no older than 8 - sniffed, wiped her nose on the back of her wrist, and held a second hand high. “Please,” she said, timidly, “I’m hungry.”
Their male companion shook his lowered head and turned away. “I have nothing. Nothing to share. Nothing to give... Nothing... I have nothing...” he mumbled, almost daring to look back over his shoulder but stopping himself from doing so before making eye-contact with anyone. "Go away..."
As Carol moved to remove the tainted coat she wore, cringing lightly from the physical pain she nursed within, Laurie pulled her bag off her shoulder, dropped it on the ground and slipped out of her hooded jumper, quickly handing it to the child before Carol could remove hers. Without further thought, she squatted down before the child and dug deep into her shoulder bag. “I’m pretty sure I have something in here,” Laurie relayed, offering the observant youngster a genuine smile. “Yep, here we go... Do you like apples? Or would you prefer a muesli bar?”
In response to both questions, the youngster nodded eagerly, sniffing hard as she did.
“First put the jumper on, darling, then you can eat.”
A smile as bright as the midday sun slipped across the youngster’s face as she hurried to warm herself with Laurie’s jumper, giggling as the hood of which got caught on her nose. Laurie laughed, also, and moved to help the child dress; a nameless emotion stirring deep within her soul, warming her entire being, and rapidly moving to melt her otherwise frozen heart.
“Honey, where’s your parents?”
Biting into the apple with eagerness, the child shrugged.
Laurie – still kneeling before the young girl – looked up at Carol, who was smiling; the tear in the older woman's eye twinkling beneath the light of lamp post. With more emotion than she would’ve preferred to reveal, Laurie figured, “We can’t leave her here... Can the Trader help her, too?”
Carol pressed her grinning lips together and, inhaling deeply, nodded. “He sure can.”
“No,” said the man, somewhat abruptly. “No children. No children... Tell her to go. She must go. Home... Go on,” he all but ordered over his shoulder, glancing the child as Laurie reached out to ensure she did not runaway, “go home... Go... Go... Go on. Get...”
Laurie rose tall, a cold little hand slipping snugly into hers. With deep conviction, she announced, “The child comes, too.”
“Yes,” agreed Carol. “Do not hinder the children from going to the Trader. They need love and acceptance, also...”
Laurie was stumped. “Love and acceptance? That’s what the Trader gives? That’s all he gives. She could get that from us!”
"Yes, my dear," Carol replied, knowingly - stirring conviction deep within Laurie's soul, "she can..." Carol gestured for them to walk on. “But the Trader gives that and more. Whatever is needed.” She lifted her eyes to Laurie, arched a brow in the direction of their male companion, and nodded when Laurie suddenly realised that Carol was well aware of the fellow’s need. On hearing Carol's words, the man instantly softened, having found a way to relate to the child. Laurie was most amazed at Carol's insight.
“Yes,” said the man; a new light shining from his eyes. "Yes! Yes! Children need love, too... Yes! Yes! Love... We all need love.” He reached into his pocket at that precise moment, withdrew a white feather, and, without looking at the young girl, offered it to her. “I love my feather... Love it... It's yours now...”
The youngster eyed the feather, the man, then Laurie, as though she were waiting for permission to take it. And take it she did, once Laurie nodded that it was ok for her do to so.
With her smile pressed against the apple she was biting into, the youngster smiled once more, offering a heartfelt “Thank you...” then moved in closer to Laurie’s side, appearing to be grateful for all that she had been given.
“What’s your name?” Laurie asked the child, also wondering what the youngster’s knotted hair would look like if cleaned.
“Joy,” replied the girl. “I’m 9.” She smiled up at Laurie, and Laurie returned the gesture, once again feeling her heart warm to this youngster.
“Hello, Joy... I’m Laurie. This is Carol. And this is...?”
“Benjamin...” the man replied. “Ben... Benny... Benjamin. They call me Benny.” He abruptly laughed then and all but yelled as he snorted, “Benji – like a dog! Wolf! Wolf!” He chuckled once more, as did Joy, and for a brief second they made eye-contact. And, quite suddenly, Laurie no longer felt the need to run. In fact, she couldn't remember the last time she had felt so content...
(to be continued )